Mitzvah makers

Were you involved in a unique or creative volunteer project to celebrate your bar or bat mitzvah? J. asked, and these three budding model citizens responded …

Recycling for the Earth and Alzheimer’s

Brett Caplan organized an electronics waste recycling drive in his San Mateo neighborhood. It was a resounding success.

Some 300 people brought their old computers, TVs, DVD players, telephones, etc. to the drop-off site in one day. The January event brought in 10 tons of waste, which generated $2,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association — thanks to Brett.

“I wanted to do something to raise money for Alzheimer’s,” says Brett, who was bar mitzvahed Jan. 27 at Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame. “I didn’t want to do just a straight donation — that sounded boring.”

So he contacted ASL, a San Jose firm that provides people and vehicles to collect electronics waste for recycling, then weighs the haul and pays by the pound.

ASL sent seven people and collection boxes, and at the beginning of the day cars trickled in. “We thought ‘agh, we are never going to put these people to work!’ It was kind of slow,” Brett recalls.

“Then it picked up.”

In the end, Brett says, “we had tons of people come.”

Brett personally thanked each visitor. He was amazed by how many of them discussed how Alzheimer’s had impacted their lives.

He’d chosen Alzheimer’s as a cause because his great-grandmother, whom he never really got to know, had the disease. “I would really like to see a cure for this,” he says, “so families wouldn’t have to go through this like my family did.”

With some help from his parents, Mylene and Russ, Brett laid the groundwork for the event months in advance. “We put fliers around the neighborhood, had two mass emails, put it in two newsletters. We tried to advertise this as much as we could.”

Now he’s inspired to do more for Alzheimer’s. “There’s a walk on Treasure Island I’m thinking about doing … “

A book can change a life

“To the world, you may be one person. But to one person, you may be the world.”

Chana Gilman of Lafayette, who organized a donation of books for young students at an East Bay school, thinks that quote epitomizes her mitzvah project. To her and her friends, owning a book is no big deal. But to others far less fortunate, it may be huge.

“On our way to buy the tallit for my April 2006 bat mitzvah,” she writes, “we talked about a mitzvah project for the special day. I had worked with my Girl Scout troop raising funds and supplies for preschool children in Zimbabwe.

“I decided to act locally this time: My godmother was a kindergarten teacher/reading specialist at Lakeshore Elementary School in Oakland, who supplied each child with a free book each year. It seemed like a natural fit since the Jewish people are the ‘people of the book.'”

Her Haftarah portion explored the concept of modesty, and “I felt that one way to act with modesty was to perform tzedakah as described by Maimonides: to give without thanks. A Lakeshore student would not know who donated her book, but that some one understood that owning a book for the first time could change a life.”

On the invitation to her bat mitzvah, she invited guests “to share in the mitzvot by bringing new or gently used children’s books” to her synagogue, B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek. The response was generous — “I even received books from many who could not share the day with me,” she notes. Children’s books were used as table decorations: themes included Dr. Seuss, Amelia Bedelia, Little Bear and more.

“We collected 475 books, more than enough for each child and classroom,” writes Chana, the daughter of Jeffrey Gilman and Carol Reif. “This project was a great way to share my bat mitzvah celebration with hundreds of children.”

In response, the class “wrote a cute thank-you card,” says Chana, who volunteers on Sundays tutoring students in Hebrew at her congregation.

Fighting malaria, one net at a time

“27 … 28 … 29 … 30 seconds, the world just lost another child to malaria. All it takes to save an innocent child’s life is to send $10 to buy a mosquito net.”

That’s Ben Hoffman’s fundraising appeal, and it seems to be quite effective. The 12-year-old, who is preparing for his bar mitzvah June 23 at Temple Beth Jacob in Redwood City, has already garnered pledges amounting to around $1,700.

“The parasites that cause malaria kill between 1 and 3 million people each year, mostly children,” he writes. “These parasites are transferred into humans by mosquitoes when they bite you. Don’t worry, this is in Africa so you’re safe here, but that doesn’t mean you should forget about it. There is no vaccine for malaria, and therefore, there is no cure!”

Mosquito nets, he points out, can be a huge help. “We can prevent it by buying mosquito nets through; it’s only 10 bucks! These nets go over a person’s bed to protect them from malaria-infected mosquitoes.

“You may say, what will protect them during the day? Well, they can swat away the mosquitoes and also mosquitoes come out mostly at night. These nets are mesh and prevent any bugs from getting in.”

Ben, the son of Dan Hoffman and Catherine Pieck of San Carlos, chose his mitzvah project after reading a story in Sports Illustrated about the malaria nets. After finishing the article, “I immediately donated $20 of my own money to the cause.”

Then he started his own netraising team, sending out emails and a holiday card note to publicize his efforts. His goal is to raise $5,000.

The name of his team is: “Save a life, buy a net.” Contributions can be made online at